How not to end up on the shelf

When I joined forces with The Social Change Agency earlier this year, we spent as much time talking about the kind of work we didn’t want to do, as much as the work we did.

We decided we didn’t want to become our clients’ superficial new best friends, providing a sympathetic and supportive ear over an informal cuppa without really helping them move forward.

We didn’t want to be greedy, grabbing more work than our clients were ready for, or needed.

And we really didn’t want to be the people whose work suffers the fate of the last consultants in before them, gathering dust on a shelf, unwanted and unloved.

Then we designed how we work to make sure we are creating genuine, lasting value – after we’re gone.

No advice without action.

First off, we said no advice without action.  We love taking time out with our brilliant clients, reassuring them that they’re on the right track and helping them think problems through.  But we should also be contracting properly for those sessions, making and securing commitments to action, and holding to account.  So we decided to offer blocks of ‘spot consulting’ with individuals and small teams, booked in advance, to create staging posts for purposeful reflection and adjustment.

Then, we decided it was our responsibility to accurately assess the stage our clients are at, their existing in-house capability and where our work should start and end.  To not rehash work that has already been done, or race ahead before laying the groundwork first. We settled on a ‘modular’ approach, with diagnosis, strategy, feasibility, operational planning and delivery, and are testing a simple toolkit to help us assess, with our clients, where they are on their journey.

Walking the talk.

Finally, we committed to walking our own talk. Our business is all about building and enabling people-powered movements. It’s not about us being clever, or right. We know that the solutions usually lie within our clients’ own networks. With colleagues and volunteers whose ideas haven’t been promoted, the behaviour of their supporters, the attitudes of their adversaries. We should be asking good questions and converting the answers into actionable insights but, if we want to avoid ending up on the shelf, we have to co-create plans and actions with the people who’ll be doing the doing.

We also knew we had to make complex, systemic change manageable. So we designed two workshop formats around our two core offers – Movement Building and System Change Leadership – to embed the fundamental principles that guide the work.

We hope that we’ve designed a way of working that allows us to work with integrity, and enables our clients to own the work. And actually, we do want to be on their shelf – as the well- thumbed volume they keep referring to and recommend to their friends.

We are delighted to welcome Carol Beaumont to the SCA team! Carol has over 20 years’ experience in non-profit, public and business sectors, supporting organisations to co-create strategies, plans, projects and campaigns with colleagues, partners and networks. She is a 2010 Clore Social Fellow and Chair of the PSHE Association. She also loves the outdoors and punishes her colleagues by making them go sea-kayaking. 

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